Home Knowledge Buyer Beware! – Website Disclaimers and Terms and Conditions under review

Buyer Beware! – Website Disclaimers and Terms and Conditions under review

September 30, 2009

The National Consumer Agency has launched a review of terms and conditions contained in websites with the possibility of enforcement proceedings to follow.

A recent UK case shows the value of properly drafted terms and conditions on a website. The UK dispute involved a couple who sought to install a swimming pool. They visited the website of a trade body for swimming pool intallers called SPATA. The case depended upon the contents of SPATA’s website, which stated that “pool installer members are fully vetted before being admitted to membership, with checks on their financial record, their experience in the trade and inspections on their work”. The website did not make it clear that only full members were vetted.

Subsequently, the company the couple selected went into liquidation causing the couple to sue SPATA for £44,000. They claimed that the website failed to make it clear that the contractor was only an “associate member” and as a result was not covered by SPATA’s insurance scheme. The court decided that SPATA was not responsible for the loss because a disclaimer on its site urged users to seek independent enquiry in relation to the contractors. As the couple failed to do this, SPATA was deemed not liable for their loss.

The case makes clear the fact that properly drafted website disclaimers can exclude or reduce liability that website owners may have to those who rely on the contents of their website.

In Ireland, the consumer rights enforcement body, the National Consumer Agency, under instruction from the European Commission, has launched a crack down on websites after almost half of Irish websites selling electronic goods were found to be infringing EU consumer law by containing misleading information, or unfair terms and conditions. EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said that failure to bring a website into line with the law could lead to legal action, fines and/or the closure of websites. In order to avoid enforcement proceedings, it is advised that all terms and conditions on websites are reviewed and any offending matters amended or deleted.